Paradigms Lost — Chapter 34

Chapter 34: Reunion Jitters

“Guess who!”

Two soft hands covered my eyes in time with the words. To my credit, I managed to keep from jumping, though she probably knew how much she’d startled me anyway.

“Madame Blavatsky?”

She giggled. “Nope.”


“Do I feel like I have a beard? Try again!”

“Then it must be the great Medium of the Mohawk Valley herself, Sylvia Stake!”

The hands came away as I turned around. “You guessed!”

“No one else has a key to this place, and Verne’s voice is two octaves lower and his hands five sizes bigger.”

Sylvie was looking good this evening, in one of her gypsyish outfits, black hair currently styled in tight ringlet-like curls pulled back by several colorful scarves, a low-cut dress with a long skirt, and a big over-the-shoulder bag that was hand-woven with enough different colors to supply a dozen rainbows. “Oh, is that the only difference?” she said, leaning forward.

Sylvie always makes me nervous. I don’t know why; she’s not the only woman or girl I’ve ever dated, and I never got this nervous around them or anyone else for that matter. Because she always saw it, Syl assumed it was all women who made me nervous. And she always enjoyed flustering me. Leaning forward in that dress was just another such approach. “C’mon, Syl, cut it out. I can’t take the games today.”

She switched gears immediately. “Sorry, Jason. I noticed you seemed tense, but I thought it might be just work and the fact I’d been away so long.”

“It’s not like I fall apart when you go away, you know.”

“Then what’s bothering you?”

I turned back to the computer screen. “Sorta business, sorta personal.”

“Verne.” It was a statement, not a question.

“How did you know?”

“Just a feeling.”

“You know, it’s tough to hide anything from you. A guy came in the other day, asking me to find his father, who he’d been separated from for years. It turned out that his father is Verne.”

“Well, that’s wonderful… isn’t it?”

“I dunno.” I pointed at the screen. “Verne didn’t recognize his face at all, just said something about recognizing his ‘soul,’ and then the two of them went off to talk together. Verne seems convinced that he’s bona fide, but I have to wonder. Even if he is the real McCoy, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have something nasty up his sleeve.”

“Jason, it’s not like you to be this paranoid.”

I told her about that cold gaze. “That just started me thinking, though. I wouldn’t go around worrying if that was all it was. But because of that, I decided to just run a background check on this guy, and I didn’t like what came up.”

Syl looked at the screen. It showed a front-page story from a Vietnamese paper of several months ago, accompanied by two pictures. One showed a Vietnamese in a business suit in one of those typical “ID Photo” poses; the other showed a blond-haired, sharp-featured young man with a cold, angry expression.

“If you color that hair black,” I said, hitting the command as I spoke, “that guy’s a twin for our ‘Tai Lee Xiang.’ ”

“What does the story say?”

“Says that the unnamed subject — the blond guy — here killed the man in the picture while escaping from a maximum-security hospital for the criminally insane. Doctor Ping Xi, the dead man, was a very important man, apparently.” I hit a few more controls, and another newspaper headline appeared. “A couple days later, they claim he killed off a colonel in their army, and he’s been hunted ever since. International warrants, the whole nine yards.”

“You don’t really think even a madman would be a threat to Verne, do you?”

I chuckled slightly in spite of myself. If I glanced out the righthand window, I was able to just make out one of the two girders left standing from the warehouse that Verne had single-handedly demolished while killing Virigar’s brood of werewolves. “It does sound a little silly, doesn’t it? But this guy isn’t an ordinary killer. According to the files I’ve been able to worm out, this colonel was practically torn apart.” I felt a spike of ice suddenly form in my chest as I spoke those words, and remembered a particular clearing in the woods.

Sylvie paled suddenly. “You don’t think …”

“… Yes, I do think. We’d better get over there.”

Neither of us had to explain the hideous thought that had occurred to us. Werewolves. If Virigar knew something about Verne’s background… how very easy to have one of his people change into some form with a good background story. If Verne knew no way to tell a werewolf from a real man, that meant that they were even capable of imitating souls.

Pausing only to grab a couple pieces of equipment, we headed for the car at a dead run.